Lana Del Rey’s songs have burst onto the pop scene in recent months, and she’s quickly building up a loyal fanbase.
This is no surprise: her vocal style and the supporting productions have quickly developed an instant-recognition factor, with the rich pianos and string lines in her tracks echoing film soundtracks, and her vocal delivery having a slightly slurred, almost drowsy quality to it.
Pleasingly, Del Rey’s tracks are remarkably free of the over-tuned quality of so much modern pop, and as she dramatically bends from one note to another, her bluesy tuning brings a wonderfully natural quality to her tracks.
If you want to record and process vocals in this way, do bear in mind that automatic pitch correction software simply won’t work on vocals recorded with the same qualities. Any automatic tuner will try to tune the notes as they bend from one pitch to another, so the portamento sound will be lost.
If you do need to tune the vocal you’ve recorded, use an application like Melodyne or the graphic editor within Auto-Tune, both of which allow you to ignore notes to leave them un-tuned. Take care too to avoid the temptation to tune the notes that you do correct to perfect pitch, as Del Rey’s style is to sing slightly flat, which helps create her trademark melancholy sound. Instead, it’s best to push the notes to be tuned gradually towards their target pitches and then keep auditioning them until you’ve got them close enough to be acceptable.
In terms of effects treatments, you’ll see how we’ve processed our recorded vocal in the following walkthrough, but the main point to bear in mind with this type of sound is that if you’re looking to create a track that’s as atmospheric and film-like as one of Del Rey’s, you’ll need to match the sense of space that you’ll program in the backing track to the vocal part.
Often, blending two different types and depths of reverb treatment, particularly with automation, can yield great results. As ever, careful use of EQ and compression will prove crucial too. Read on to see how it’s done.
For more vocal processing and other tutorials, check out Computer Music Special 52 - the Singer-Songwriter Production Guide - which is on sale now.
The backing track
Step 1: Our backing track in the style of Lana Del Rey consists of a lo-fi drum loop from Stylus RMX, suitably classical-sounding piano and string parts, both from native Logic libraries, a supporting sub-bass line and a vocal part that echoes Lana’s drowsy style. There’s no vocal processing in this initial clip.
EQ and compression
Step 2: To smooth the vocal and balance the dynamics we apply EQ and compression using Sonnox plug-ins. The EQ uses a high shelf at 10kHz and boosts at around 5kHz, while scooping out content at 1.1kHz and 272Hz. We set a compression Ratio of 4.4:1, with quite a low Threshold.
Step 3: To treat the vocal part to the same rich, lush atmosphere as the backing track we send it to Auxiliary 3 and apply Lexicon’s Vintage Plate reverb. We choose a combination program that combines a 2.5-second plate reverb with a tempo-locked echo, which is slightly louder on the left than on the right. This echo is synced to quarter-notes.
Step 4: Finally, we set up a longer reverb on Auxiliary 4 using the Very Large Vocal preset in the Sonnox Reverb. We set a basic amount of this throughout the track but automate the send level so that on the lines “panther in the night” and “up for the fight”, more reverb is apparent - you can hear this most clearly at the end.
The Singer-Songwriter Production Guide
Learn how to write a classic pop song, record like a pro with your bedroom setup and process vocals using cutting-edge and timeless techniques – all this and more is yours with our brand-new CM Special: Singer-Songwriter Production Guide.
Whether you're a traditional singer-songwriter who's ready to embrace the possibilities of computer-based music production, or a seasoned inside-the-box producer who wants to improve your songwriting, recording or vocal production skills, this CM Special is for you.
Learn the formula that underpins scores of pop hits and discover how you can apply it to give your own tracks more mass appeal
Arrangements that work
Learn how to keep your audience hooked by structuring your tracks right and making sure every section is doing its job
"How I wrote a hit…"
Peter Hook, David Gray, Lamb's Andy Barlow, Alex Cornish, Merz and King Charles share their insights and best songwriting tips
Harmonies and backing vocals
Great backing vocals separate the pros from the pack. We show you how to make yours sound a million times better
Timeless processing techniques
If you've got a great vocal to work with, these classic treatments will really allow it to shine through
Stand-out vocal effects
Hog the spotlight with the latest processing tricks for attention-grabbing vocal hooks and ear-candy moments
Break out of the box
New to the world of recording? Get up and running fast with our guide to kitting out and setting up your own custom singer-songwriter recording space
We show you how to get pro-quality results on vocals and acoustic instruments, even from a modest bedroom setup
Comping and editing
The perfect vocal is rarely captured in one take – we bring you the fix-it techniques that every producer needs to know
From subtle correction to over-the-top FX, with today's powerful tuning tools you need never cringe at dodgy pitching again
On the disc: Songwriter's Toolkit
A hand-picked selection of pro sample loops to kick start your songs, courtesy of top production houses Loopmasters, Time+Space, Zero-G, Freshtone and Big Fish
CM Special 52: Singer-Songwriter Production Guide is available from*: UK and mail order: 22 February • Europe 29 February • North America 21 March • ROW 4 April
Stockists: Selected WH Smith, Chapters and independent newsagents or MyFavouriteMagazines.co.uk
* Overseas onsale dates are approximate due to factors beyond our control